Between Two Cubans: One Here, the Other There (I)

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES, August 21 – A few weeks ago we published an interview by Havana Times writer Erasmo Calzadilla with Julio de la Yncera, a Cuban emigrant and Havana Times reader.  Now we’re turning the table to give Yncera the chance to pose his own questions to Calzadilla.  What follows is their conversation:

Julio de la Yncera:  Erasmo, I’ve come to know you from reading Havana Times, where your articles reflect the situation in Cuba from your point of view. Can you tell me how you began writing for this web page?

Erasmo Calzadilla: I learned of Havana Times through a longtime friend who wrote for it and told me about the site.  He encouraged me to continue in his footsteps, but I —who wasn’t familiar with the magazine— was afraid I’d be used in the US-Cuba political conflict.  Also, I was concerned that writing would bring me problems at my university.  After meeting Circles Robinson (the editor) in Havana and listening to him speak about the project I felt more confident and began writing.

Julio de la Yncera: Has writing for Havana Times caused you any problems?

Erasmo Calzadilla: I’m not sure. Among the official accusations when I was fired by INSTEC, the school where I taught, they never mentioned the website.  However, they did raise it when they “explained” to students the reason behind my firing.  Was this the cause or only an excuse?  I don’t know.  Except for that situation, I haven’t had any problems except the conflicts I generate within myself, but those are welcome.

Julio de la Yncera:  I’ve noticed that there are more commentaries in the English version of the Havana Times than in the Spanish, and I know there are many reasons for this.  I also understand that the Cuban government filters many Internet sites that discuss Cuba, though I know that informal media sources exist for broadcasting information. Is the Havana Times read in Cuba?

Erasmo Calzadilla: I can’t respond to that question in any depth; I don’t know the answer. But you’re right in saying that great difficulties exist in accessing the Internet in Cuba for those of us who don’t have the necessary money. Many of those who write for Havana Times have never seen the site, or have only seen it on a few occasions.  However, it’s not blocked by the State like other websites are.

Julio de la Yncera: As we know, many people in Cuba try to emigrate, some for family reasons, others for political or economic reasons and others that go unmentioned. What changes do you think are necessary in Cuban society so that it would be attractive for the majority and so that many of the Cubans who are wandering the world would return?

Erasmo Calzadilla: I suppose, though it’s quite possible that I’m mistaken, that people in Cuba want political freedom (at least an end to the oppressive atmosphere that frightens people and forces them to keep their mouths shut) and economic improvements. These are easy to identify but difficult to obtain. How do we move closer to such changes? People should become independent of the State; they should feel autonomous and be able to function freely. A little progress has been made in this area, but now it’s also important that we not lose our balance and fall headlong in the opposite direction.

We should also learn how to guide individual initiative and creativity toward solidarity. In my opinion, this is not only because it’s beautiful, but also because solidarity has shown itself to be the best alternative and the best way of preserving freedom and prosperity, something neither global capitalism nor the Cuban communist party will ever grant us.

Julio de la Yncera: For some time the Cuban revolution seemed to pursue the illusion of egalitarianism. I refer to this as an illusion since it will never be completely realized. One can always replace the possession of money for power, and society will again become divided between the haves and the have-nots. This creates a level of social injustice, which for example explains the corruption in the Cuban government.  Therefore it would be logical to wonder: How can this be solved?

Erasmo Calzadilla: First I’d like to say that, according to my own reading and investigations, the social differences that existed before the “revolution,” were much deeper and more serious than they are today. In terms of the problem of social inequalities you’re referring to, I don’t believe that a unique and final solution exists.  It will always be necessary to struggle against them, just like it’s always necessary to take a bath or eat.

Social inequality has a lot to do with the issue of property ownership. I think that neither collective nor private ownership guarantees social justice. It would be necessary to invent another system that integrated these extremes better.  We should note how civil society has been solving them, because self-regulating feedback mechanisms arise organically and spontaneously, as long as other forces with their immense power don’t intervene to disrupt everything.

Anyway, just in case, those of us who think that social injustice is so terrible should be alert and very conscious so that neither political structures, nor destiny, nor nature nor any blind and involuntary forces can drive us “inevitably” toward that evil. In that case we need to exert force against destiny to move it from its path, even if it becomes necessary to dismantle the structure, to be unnatural etc., etc.

Julio de la Yncera: Raul Castro recently mentioned the following concerning egalitarianism: “Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights and opportunities – not income. Equality is not egalitarianism. Ultimately, this too is a form of exploitation: of the good worker by the one who is not, or worse still by the lazy person.”

Julio de la Yncera

In fact, if I exchange the word “socialism” for “capitalism” in the previous passage, there’s absolutely no difference in meaning. I would especially like to know your opinion of this.

Erasmo Calzadilla: I’m not very up-to-date on things; I don’t know what lies capitalism is presently using on children to paint itself as just. Seriously however, I do believe that to distinguish socialism from capitalism, Raul should not have said equal rights but equal access to power. Power is the root of rights. Given the expressions he used we could still imagine a police state granting us all the same rights, and that has nothing to do with socialism.

Julio de la Yncera: There is a “Reflection” essay by Fidel’s Castro concerning ex-VP Carlos Lage and ex-Foreign Minister Perez Roque, who previously enjoyed power and who were dismissed last year.  In this piece he asserted, “The honey of power, for which they had not sacrificed at all, awoke in them ambitions that led them to assume an unsuitable role.”

There are two points that I would like your opinion on. I find it inappropriate to make a connection between “the honey of power” and sacrifices. My interpretation of those words is that only those of Fidel’s generation who struggled in the Sierra Maestra Mountains [in the 1950s] are entitled to that power.

On the other hand, very few explanations were given as to why the two were discharged. Nor were these officials allowed to defend themselves or to contest the accusations. Moreover, the two letters of resignation were almost identical. What do you have to say about all of this?

Erasmo Calzadilla: Julio, by the tone of your question I think that we share the same opinion on this issue. Fidel’s words fall of their own weight.  I’m not interested in critiquing them; they’ve already tired me out. And to tell the truth, I don’t care about the petty affairs of the palace.

Julio de la Yncera: Recently political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after a hunger strike in a Cuban prison.  Another former political prisoner, Guillermo Fariñas, began another hunger strike requesting the release of all political prisoners who were in poor physical health. The Ladies in White also demonstrated in peaceful actions appealing for the release of their Cuban loved ones. The government’s initial approach was one of confrontation – deploying rapid response brigades against the Ladies in White in an attempt to make seem like it was the people themselves who were physically assaulting these mothers, wives and sisters of the political prisoners. The Cuban government also accused Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Guillermo Fariñas of having been common criminals and not political prisoners. Likewise, they showed how the prisoners of the Primavera Negra (Black Spring) were mere agents of a foreign government. It seemed a situation would have no end, but after negotiations with the Catholic Church, the Raul Castro government allowed the release of the majority of the Cuban political prisoners. What’s your opinion in this respect?

Erasmo Calzadilla: All of this is very confusing.  I don’t know to what extent those men involved in the “Black Spring” really supported the imperialistic and aggressive power of the USA in its attempt to penetrate Cuba, or if they were only victims of camajanes (opportunists) who used them. Really, sitting down with James Cason (the Bush-appointed former head of the US Interests Section in Havana), to receive guidelines and radios to distribute was pretty strong.  Nonetheless, we should also keep in mind that the leaders who promoted this meeting with the Interests Office were actually agents of Cuban State Security who were pretending to be the heads of “small counter-revolutionary factions.”  So, it all seems like a set up by both sides (the US Interests Office and Cuban State Security).  The only element lacking was to find people for the operation, and once the call went out they appeared.

I am very pleased that they have been released and I wish the same for the five Cuban agents imprisoned in the US.  Now I have some trouble swallowing the fact that the church has served as mediator.  Among the many groups that dared to request the release of the Cuban political prisoners, Raul chose to “negotiate” with the church.  Why did he do that?  I’m clueless as to the concealed reason in those political games, but I don’t like it.

Julio de la Yncera: When I lived in Cuba, I would have liked to have had a democratic government where everyone was heard and not commanded from above, and where those people who were capable of solving the nation’s problems were more important than those who did everything to highlight their alliance with the group in power. I would have also liked to have been able to enjoy all of the human rights established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Based on what you’ve written, I have the impression that both of us share these same desires. In my case, in the time that I lived there, the alternatives for change in Cuban society were few. Do you believe that change is now possible? What things would you like to see change and what do you believe should remain as it is?

Erasmo Calzadilla: Yes, I believe that now there’s more of an opportunity for change. The years have not passed in vain, and the political imagery of Cubans has undoubtedly matured; I have no doubt about that. The more relaxed circumstances in our geographical environment and the biological end of the government of those “historic leaders,” who can only go on for so much longer, creates a situation that is favorable for change. But we need to make an enormous effort to have this come out well, moving towards more social justice, more freedom, more power to the individual and less to whatever system is in place.

Like you, I also want a democratic and popular government where people can decide in the most direct way possible the direction that this country takes. How can we obtain this so, so difficult thing? It will require the change in consciousness that I spoke about previously, a change that I cannot tell how distant it is. Another key moment would be a call for a constituent assembly that would remove us from the tutelage of the PCC as a basic first step.

See part two of the interview

One thought on “Between Two Cubans: One Here, the Other There (I)

  • Wow . . . What an excellent, provocative interview! I look forward to the next installment.

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